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I spent part of Washington’s snowed-in weekend sipping bourbon, building an igloo, and listening to one anonymous woman’s horrific karaoke rendition of Deborah Cox‘s 1998 power ballad, “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here.” At one break in the snow shelter action, a friend popped in a cassette tape containing the butchering of Cox’s song, which he claims to have found laying on the ground at a Six Flags theme park.
Being unfamiliar with Cox’s work, we hopped onto YouTube to listen to the original track, a resounding tribute to the man who made Deborah Cox love again. Beneath the video, a Cox fan had filed the following comment: “man she can sing so gud man i love her no homo she is now my idol like 4 real my gaol is too sing like her cuz she is truly amazing.”
No homo? Seriously? I always thought the homophobic “no homo” declaration was a product of hip-hop’s aggressive masculinity. Now, girls, too, are invoking “no homo” to clarify that they want to be able to belt maudlin R&B ballads about falling in love with men without being perceived as lesbians? What’s going on here?
Earlier this year, Slate‘s Jonah Weiner argued that “no homo” represented a step forward for hip-hop, as it allowed male rappers to step outside the bounds of traditional masculinity and explore their feminine sides without being perceived as gay. “No homo” is blatant homophobia, Weiner argued, but at least it’s blatant homophobia that allows rappers to kiss each other on the lips, take an interest in fashion, and engage in such homoerotic displays as “giddily dous[ing] each other” in champagne—-as long as they’re not actually gay.
But does “no homo” hold any similar gender-role liberation for women in hip-hop?
“No homo” hasn’t caught on among lady MC’s like it has with male rappers like Cam’ron, Lil’ Wayne, and Kanye West. But back in 1995, Lil’ Kim used the “no homo” tactic in order to spit some man-hating sentiments without being pigeonholed as a lesbian. In her verse on Junior M.A.F.I.A. track “Get Money,” Kim announced, “I ain’t gay, this ain’t no lesbo flow.”
“No lesbo” is clearly homophobic, but there’s a hint of transgression here, as well. The anti-gay sentiment works to excuse the rest of Kim’s verse, which directs a stream of hate at lying, cheating men. On the track, Kim ridicules men’s penises, rejects men who want to play her “like a chicken,” and insists that listeners “eat my pussy.” It’s a female version of Biggie‘s verse on the same track—-a verbal take-down of lying, cheating “bitches.” The only difference? There’s no “no homo” caveat to Biggie’s misogyny, because straight men are expected to hate women. Lil’ Kim, on the other hand, must temper her misandry with a “no lesbo,” as women who rail against male behavior are immediately assumed to be man-hating lesbians.
“No lesbo” helped Lil’ Kim to speak out against men without being labeled a lesbian. It also allowed her to flaunt her sexuality in an aggressive, raunchy, self-serving way that had previously been reserved for male rappers. At one point in “Get Money,” she flips the traditional sex script when she demands that her sex partner “get me open while Im cummin down your throat.” But for the most part, female displays of sexuality in hip-hop are used exclusively to facilitate male pleasure and domination. That’s another reason why “no lesbo” has failed to liberate women from traditional gender roles in the way “no homo” has for men—-in male-dominated hip-hop, lesbianism is hot.
The sentiment that lesbians are sexual candy for straight men is coming from the same rappers who sprinkle “no homo” in their lyrics to avoid being labeled as gay themselves. On Kanye West‘s 2007 track “Stronger,” he announced that he “would do anything for a blonde dyke.” And in Lil’ Wayne‘s Drake‘s recent contribution to “We Like Her,” the “no homo”-loving rapper asked, “Are any of y’all into girls like I am, lesbi-honest?”
But as with the male homosocial displays made safe by the “no homo” disclaimer, lesbianism in hip-hop is only acceptable if it’s not truly gay.
Consider Gucci Mane‘s “Girls Kissing Girls,” featuring rumored lesbian hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj. In the song, Gucci lays out some pornographic verses about girls doin’ it before laying out his cautionary tale: Just don’t hook up with real lesbians, or they’ll steal your girlfriend: “Told her last time she can bring her other friend / Then I lost her number never seen again / The best brain in the world, do her thing with a girl / But don’t call her yo girl, or let her hang with yo girl.”
The sentiment that lesbianism is okay as long as it’s a performance for men isn’t confined to hip-hop, of course. Katy Perry‘s pop anthem “I Kissed a Girl” is the “no homo” anthem that never dared to say “no homo.” The lyrics—-“I kissed a girl and I liked it / Hope my boyfriend don’t mind it”—-reinforce the idea that girls should be free to kiss each other as long as they go home to their heterosexual relationships at the end of the day (and let their boyfriends watch).
“No homo” allows male hip-hop artists to explore their femininity. The new “no lesbo” sentiment, on the contrary, keeps women on an even shorter gender-role leash—-they are allowed to explore their sexuality, as long as that sexuality is still controlled and consumed by men. Men are allowed to get manicures, wear purple fur coats, and geek out over fashion shows as long as they tack a “no homo” on their activities. Meanwhile, the “no lesbo” sentiment only helps women to continue to act sexy for men, not to claim their sexuality in the spirit of Lil’ Kim. Despite the genre’s fascination with token lesbianism, Bitch‘s Natalie Stein notes that mainstream hip-hop still discourages lesbian hip-hop artists from coming out.
“No homo” doesn’t carry with it any more freedom for women to defy gender roles. Nevertheless, some female hip-hop fans are still eager to invoke “no homo” alongside their male counterparts. What else explains applying “no homo” to otherwise sexual-orientation-neutral activities, like being able to sing like Deborah Cox? On Urban Dictionary, “no lesbo” is defined as:
said after something potentially “lebian” has been said. Also used to state something does not have a lesbian connotation, even though it sounds that way
1.That’s my bitch, no lesbo. 2.That ass is huge, no lesbo.
In most cases, “no homo” and “no lesbo” function not as a way to escape traditional gender norms, but as turns-of-phrase which help build community through conversation markers. Once boys are using “no homo,” their female friends are going to want to use it, too—-even if it doesn’t make much sense, or help them to claim any transgressive power. When extended to women, “no homo” isn’t what Jonah Weiner calls “progress”—-it’s just more casual homophobia coupled with some good, old-fashioned objectification of women.